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What I wish I'd known

Article

A practice manager charged into a new job with a legal pad and a menu of necessary improvements. After a successful stint, she ended up swallowing a heart helping of humility.

After nine years of working as both a veterinary technician and hospital manager, I decided that I was ready for something new. I ended up taking a management position at a small animal hospital that was just 3 years old. The two owners already employed a part-time office manager, but I was going to be their first full-fledged hospital manager. I was really excited about the job and set high expectations for myself, namely committing to doing all that I could to help this relatively young hospital.

Kristine Suszczynski

A full plate of delectable ideas

Upon the directive of the two owners, I observed every function of the hospital for a two-week period and made notes about how things could be done better. I watched interactions between team members, between doctors and team members, and between doctors and doctors. Then I watched how everyone interacted with clients. I dissected the entire patient record and filing system, radiograph filing system, and controlled drug log. I came up with a way to overhaul how the practice handled inventory and charges, including setting the correct price for products and services and tracking missed fees. I wrote down ideas for enhancing appointment flow and client service.

After the two weeks were over, I was very proud of myself and what I'd accomplished. I was going to show my bosses how smart they were for hiring me and prove my worth by presenting tons of proposed improvements.

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Dinner and a meeting

One of the practice owners invited me to share my ideas during a meal at her house. I handed out copies of my 10-page report, and the two owners and I discussed each item over Chinese food. I backed up my ideas with written material and proper reasoning. I perceived the meeting as totally positive. Both owners said they were on board with my suggestions.

The next day at work, I immediately started implementing the changes we'd discussed. Eventually, the practice grew larger and, after some bumps and hurdles, it really started to thrive. The owners seemed to be happy with my performance, and I was pleased to play a part in their success.

The team members a few of whom are pictured here at Portland Veterinary Specialists in Portland, Maine, benefit from Kristine Suszczynskis (left) conscientious management style. (Photo courtesy of Kristine Suszczynski)

Nine years later, I decided to move out of state. Not long before leaving, I was reminiscing with one of the practice owners about the good times. Then, out of the blue, she told me how hurt and shocked she and the other owner had been after our initial meeting. This was their first stab at running a veterinary practice, and they thought they'd been doing well. My report was like a knife in her heart, and she remembered the meeting like it was yesterday. I couldn't believe what I was hearing and asked her again and again why she didn't tell me before. (I never really got an answer.)

Food for thought

I learned an important life lesson that day: Before I take action, I need to think about how what I'm about to do will affect others. I thought I'd done a first-rate assessment. While I did ultimately implement changes for the better, I also hurt two good people who truly had been doing a fine job. I came in and shot down all their efforts in one fell swoop.

Granted, a veterinary practice is a business and the people who work in them need to remember that business is business. But employees—including managers and owners—have feelings that matter. I didn't think for a second the list I created would make the owners feel hurt or inadequate. I failed to look beyond my own excitement, enthusiasm, and desire to prove my worth in order to consider the owners' reactions.

Taking these types of lessons to heart is key to continual self-improvement. As a result of this particular experience, I've bettered my management manner and method. Now I always pause to envision and mull over the whole picture before presenting an idea.

Soon after that conversation with the owner, I moved and got another veterinary practice manager job. You'd better believe I began this new position communicating ideas one by one, taking each through solution and application before introducing the next. At the same time, I'm fully acknowledging and appreciating the positive aspects of the previous processes and team efforts. So far, so good—all our Chinese meals have ended without a sour taste.

Kristine Suszczynski, BA, is the hospital manager at Portland Veterinary Specialists in Portland, Maine.

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